Iraqis Reject Insurgents, Support Transition

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2011 — Iraq’s cit­i­zens want a U.S. civil­ian pres­ence in their coun­try and over­whelm­ing­ly reject the insur­gency, the top U.S. mil­i­tary and civil­ian lead­ers in Iraq said here today.
“The peo­ple do not want what al-Qai­da brings to their coun­try,” Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq, told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. “I don’t see them return­ing to the promi­nence they had a while back. The [Iraqi] peo­ple have seen bet­ter days.”

Polls show Iraqis are sup­port­ive of plans laid out in the U.S.-Iraqi strate­gic frame­work agree­ment call­ing for all U.S. mil­i­tary to leave Iraq by the end of this year, turn­ing future oper­a­tions over to the U.S. State Depart­ment, U.S. Ambas­sador to Iraq James F. Jef­frey said.

“In all these [Mid­dle East­ern] coun­tries, there is a ner­vous­ness about hav­ing too close a rela­tion­ship with any for­eign coun­try,” he said. “They have a long his­to­ry of being exploit­ed by their neigh­bors, and col­o­niza­tion. But, we would say there is a gen­er­al, pos­i­tive feel­ing in Iraq toward the Unit­ed States.”

Those pos­i­tive atti­tudes from Iraqis will help the 17,000 or so civil­ians who stay in Iraq after the mil­i­tary leaves, Austin and Jef­frey said.

It was the sec­ond time this week that the two tes­ti­fied before Sen­ate com­mit­tees about the tran­si­tion from mil­i­tary to civil­ian-led oper­a­tions in Iraq.

Austin and Jef­frey said they are con­fi­dent the State Depart­ment can com­plete the mis­sion if Con­gress ful­ly funds their bud­get requests.

“We are ded­i­cat­ed to part­ner­ing with our embassy team­mates,” Austin said. “The key is to ful­ly resource the embassy.”

Jef­frey said fail­ure to fund the effort prop­er­ly would be a mis­take. “Giv­en all the U.S. has sac­ri­ficed in Iraq,” he said, “now is not the time to be pen­ny-wise and pound-fool­ish and risk ced­ing the field to al-Qai­da and Iran.”

The U.S. bud­get in Iraq will decrease from $78 bil­lion for Defense Depart­ment oper­a­tions there last year to a State Depart­ment request of about $6 bil­lion for next year, Jef­frey said. That would make Iraq the State Department’s largest pro­gram expen­di­ture and would dou­ble its costs there now, he said.

Jef­frey added that Iraq increas­ing­ly is pay­ing more for its own gov­er­nance, secu­ri­ty and pro­grams, and cur­rent­ly pays for half of civil­ian con­struc­tion projects.

As part of its role to advise and assist, Austin said, the mil­i­tary is work­ing to turn over its train­ing of Iraq’s 650,000 secu­ri­ty forces to embassy per­son­nel in Bagh­dad as part of a new office of secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion. The office is slat­ed to have 157 per­son­nel to advise, assist and devel­op Iraqi forces and over­see $13 bil­lion in U.S. mil­i­tary equip­ment sales to Iraq, he said.

State Depart­ment work­ers now have mil­i­tary escorts every­where out­side of Bagh­dad, but that has not always been the case, Jef­frey said.

“We have oper­at­ed with our own con­tract secu­ri­ty in Iraq under far worse con­di­tions than we’re under now,” he said. “We con­tin­ue to oper­ate in Bagh­dad with our secu­ri­ty per­son­nel, and we’re pre­pared to do this through­out the coun­try.” He added that he expects the civil­ians to have more than 5,500 secu­ri­ty per­son­nel, dou­bling their cur­rent num­bers.

Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces have had the lead in pro­vid­ing the country’s inter­nal secu­ri­ty since last year and are pre­pared to con­tin­ue after U.S forces leave, Austin said. U.S. forces will con­tin­ue to train and equip Iraqi forces to bet­ter pre­pare them for exter­nal threats, which will remain a chal­lenge through 2012, he said.

Iraq’s con­tin­ued devel­op­ment of its new nation­al gov­ern­ment will be crit­i­cal to sus­tain­ing progress, Jef­frey said. “We’ve pressed them, but more impor­tant­ly, they’ve pressed them­selves,” he told the com­mit­tee.

The nation­al gov­ern­ment recent­ly signed a 19-point plan with lead­ers of the Kur­dish region of north­ern Iraq on issues such as rev­enue shar­ing and oil exports, Jef­frey said. And Iraqi lead­ers, cog­nizant of poten­tial threats from neigh­bor­ing Iran and are “nation­al­ist in their ori­en­ta­tion” to deal­ing with them, he added.

“The Iraqi gov­ern­ment is well aware of the poten­tial for trou­ble,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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